The lycan felt himself starting to lose control.
“Faster!” he shouted to the driver as his carriage careened toward the castle.
It was already late in the day, and he could feel the change coming on.
It was a familiar feeling, an uneasy kind of alertness, an itch beneath his skin… He’d felt it for many moons.
An uncontrollable beast, a pent-up rage that burnt inside him.
A monster longing for release.
“We’ve entered the King’s estate, Alpha Kyril,” the subordinate to his right said, trembling.
Kyril pressed his palms into his thighs, his muscles taught beneath his pants, and tried to breath. It was coming on faster than usual. With more heat and vigor.
This was a mistake.
I should not have come.
The danger to the kingdom is too great!
The carriage wheel hit a stone in the road, sending a jarring shock wave through his bones.
As an alpha, the leader of a pack—one of the biggest packs in all of the Lycanthrope Kingdom—it was Kyril’s sworn duty to attend the King’s Annual Gathering. But with each year he became more and more unstable.
And this year he was worried he would lose control.
For Kyril was a lycan who had yet to find a mate.
Unlike other wolf shifters, lycans who remained unmated by the moon goddess became increasingly wayward until they lost all sense of their humanity…and became feral.
Kyril had shifted for the first time at age fifteen—seventeen years ago.
Stronger lycans had gone crazy in less time. Somehow, Kyril was holding on…barely.
“How much longer?” he growled at his men.
“Not long, sir!”
Kyril noticed the nervous twitches of his comrades, the flitting eye movements.
Clever, he thought. ~They know to be afraid.~
Looking at the horizon as the sun sat low in the sky, Kyril grit his teeth and tried to hold on.
If they could make it to the castle in time, there was a chance he could be contained before he shifted.
If not, the entire kingdom was in grave danger.
He had to hold on. He had to keep himself calm until his men could secure him.
The lycan inside him would only wait so long.
And it had been waiting so long already…
Mate… Kyril clenched his fists and looked skyward. ~Are you out there?~
Slowly she opened her eyes and felt the warmth of the afternoon sun shining in through the window.
She rolled over to find her mother, Mila, sitting on the edge of her bed.
“Lilac, darling,” her mother said. “Were you dreaming?”
“I was…” She wiped a drop of sweat from her brow. What had she been dreaming of? All she could remember was a figure shrouded in shadow, trapped, and a feeling as if they were… as if they knew each other.
“Oh…” Lilac sat up on her bed, a thin prayer book falling from her lap and onto the floor.
“What is this?” Mila asked, picking up the book.
“I was practicing the hymns and must have dozed off.”
Mila smiled at her daughter. It was the most beautiful smile in the world—according to Lilac.
She rubbed Lilac’s shoulder.
“It’s time to get up,” her mother said. “You need to get ready.”
“Get ready for what?” Lilac yawned.
“For the King’s Annual Gathering, remember?” Mila shook her head in loving amusement. “You silly thing, you can’t have forgotten. The lycanthrope council are announcing their newest inductee and your father is nominated.”
Lilac’s father, Legion, was the Alpha of their pack, and Lilac had known this day was coming. She had dreaded its arrival.
“Is that today?”
Her jaw started to tremble.
Lilac leaned back upon her pillow and sighed. The King’s Annual Gathering was the last event an introvert like Lilac wanted to attend.
“Up you get,” Mila said, patting Lilac gently on her knee.
Lilac groaned. She knew she had no choice.
She and her twin brother Ales had just turned eighteen, meaning they were now adults, and eligible to attend their first Lycanthrope Gathering.
The werewolf king himself had invited her and her brother.
To not attend would be an unforgivable offense. As much as Lilac wished she could stay in her room forever, she would never do anything to disgrace her family in the eyes of the kingdom.
Slowly, Lilac got to her feet as Mila headed toward the closet.
“Where do we begin?’ Mila asked no one in particular. “Makeup? Etiquette? We need to pick a dress, of course. This is all so exciting!”
Since Lilac rarely went out, she knew how big a deal this moment was to her mother.
“First,” she said to Lilac, “you go freshen up. Quickly!”
“Okay, okay, I’m going.” Lilac’s shoulders slumped forward.
She’d never understood what all the fuss was about when it came to getting ready. It’s not like she was trying to attract anyone’s attention.
The thought of luring a mate had never appealed to her much.
The last thing I want is someone to notice me!
“They won’t even know I’m here,” Kyril mumbled to himself, unable to avoid feeling ashamed as he looked upon the tumbledown ruins of an old chapel.
After their arrival at the castle, the alpha’s men had informed the king of Kyril’s need for sanctuary. The king, aware of Kyril’s struggles, was prepared.
The king’s men had escorted the lycan and the members of his pack here—a long disused puritan church at the far end of his estate.
As far from the gathering as possible.
Kyril’s body was beginning to shake. His muscles tensed and released in spasmodic waves.
“Thank the goddess.”
Saliva gathered in his jaws and a growl grew in his gut.
His men groaned as they unloaded heavy chests from the carriage.
Kyril followed them inside.
The last of the day’s sunlight shone in through the paneless windows of the disused chapel. The lycan squinted into the pastel haze as he bit down.
His men opened the chests and began to unpack their foreboding contents.
They pulled out heavy rusted chains. Chains with which Kyril was all too familiar. They secured them around rocks, fastening them to the floor.
Kyril moved to the center of the room, and his men began the task of tying him up. He looked around with his human eyes one last time as he began to feel the crushing weight of the chains on his shoulders.
Although the walls remained upright, the roof was long since gone—caved in. Piles of rock rested where columns once stood.
What had once been a tranquil place of worship was now in chaos.
The marble floor was cracked and overgrown. Grass spiked through the crevices, and vines draped themselves down the walls and around the spot where the lycan stood.
Working quickly, with their eyes downcast, they imprisoned their alpha.
They secured their chains around the lycan and the remains of an altar.
The cold metal links wound around the muscular chest of the lycan, tightly snaking around his solid arms and legs.
Will it be enough?
Will these chains be strong enough to contain me?
“Do you like it?” Mila said, pulling on the strings of Lilac’s corset. She grunted in pain and looked at the pale lilac gown her mother had laid out.
“Just because…ow!”—Mila tightened the bodice—“just because it’s my name doesn’t mean—ow!—I have to wear it, you know.”
“I know, but you look so beautiful in it,” said Mila, pinching Lilac’s cheek. “Now, sit down so I can get to work on your hair.”
Her mother styled Lilac’s raven hair into loose waves that tumbled down her back and pinned freshly picked edelweiss across the braid she weaved, creating a delicate flower crown.
“You look stunning,” her mother said. “Now, just some light makeup.”
When they were done, Lilac stepped into the dress while her mother helped clasp the back. She turned, looking in the mirror, admiring how it fit her body.
She didn’t look like the quiet girl who studied the psalms and kept to herself. No, Lilac looked…grown up.
The sight alone was enough to give her goosebumps.
It’s too much, isn’t it?
“Now, the shoes,” her mother said, a pair of heels dangling from her fingers.
Lilac winced. She slid her feet into the pumps and followed her mother downstairs, gripping the railing the whole way down.
Legion stopped in his tracks at the sight of her.
“Mila,” he said, “she looks beautiful!”
“So beautiful she might even find her mate,” Mila teased, and Lilac blushed.
“The day she finds her mate,” Legion sputtered. “I’m going to send her to a convent!”
Mila tsked and shook her head. “You cannot break the laws of the wolf realm, Legion. Eventually, she will find her mate.”
Lilac blanched. That was the last thing in the world she wanted: a mate.
She’d never had a close male friend, a beau, not even the slightest dalliance, and she liked it that way.
She remembered the one boy who’d dared to court her: Hunter Blackwood, an Alpha from a neighboring pack. He was friends with Ales, and she always found it strange how he followed her around, offering to help with anything she needed.
It wasn’t until Hunter had tried to kiss her that her father had thrown him out.
To this day, Hunter was forbidden to see her.
She found the whole thing almost completely overwhelming. For one, she simply didn’t reciprocate his feelings, and secondly, the thought that one day she would need to explain as much to him filled her little heart with terror.
Her father said that Hunter was simply a lusty dog trying to get a bite. And Lilac had no experience dealing with dogs of any kind…
A growl escaped his lips as the alpha commanded his men to hurry.
He had yet to shift fully but was well on his way.
Rage rose within him.
Blurring his vision…
Speeding his heart rate…
Time was running out.
“Quickly!” he managed through a snarling jaw.
His men hastily finished securing their leader as the sun began to set.
There was no time left anymore.
“Leave me! LEAVE ME!”
Without hesitation, the alpha’s pack abandoned the chapel, leaving their leader to battle his beast alone.
Suddenly the lycan was overcome with anger…
Chaos and rage burnt in his mind…
He could feel the fury inside…the feral monster…rising to the surface…
As his muscles ached and bulged…
His head swam with images of violence…
His fangs grew and his jaws snapped…
He pulled at the chains to ensure he was contained…
As the transformation overcame him…
He looked to the rising moon and howled…
“Is that my sister?”
Lilac turned to see Ales at the door, wearing a tuxedo, black hair slicked back. He looked every bit an Alpha in the making.
“Looking good, sis,” he said.
“You look very handsome, Ales.”
“Are we all ready then?”
Lilac looked around for her clutch.
“I forgot my bag in my room. I’ll be right back!”
She quickly entered her bedroom, grabbed the clutch off her vanity, and was turning to leave when she noticed a cold breeze against her skin.
I didn’t leave the window open, did I?
When she went to latch it, she discovered a folded piece of paper resting on the windowsill, a heart-shaped stone holding it down.
“Hunter?” she said, picking up the note.
Lovely Lilac, maiden most fair,
How my poor heart aches in despair.
Too long, I’ve yearned. I’ve hidden in fear,
But tonight, I vow to bring our young hearts near…
Her eyes widened as she let the poem drop to the floor. She’d recognized the handwriting and was sure it was Hunter who had left the note.
This was enough to make her shiver with anxiety. Hunter was going to attempt to woo her at the gathering.
And the only thing she found more terrifying than his affection was the thought that she might make a scene rejecting him.
“What’s taking so long up there?” her father called out impatiently.
Lilac hurried downstairs to her waiting family. “Mama, I think I’m feeling sick. May I stay?”
“Nice try,” Mila said, pushing Lilac out the door. “It won’t be as bad as you think.”
Lilac prayed that her mother was right, but Hunter’s poem seemed to suggest the opposite.
Tonight, I vow to bring our young hearts near…
Lilac gulped. She didn’t know what “vow” Hunter was alluding to, but it made her heart race and her palms sweaty.
And then there was another feeling. Some wisp of yearning left over from her nap.
As if somewhere out there, someone…something was calling to her.
The carriage doors slammed shut, and they headed off into the night, Lilac staring out into the darkness.
She felt the icy realization that her life was about to change and wondered if it had anything to do with the shadowy figure she’d dreamed about.
That’s ridiculous, she chided herself. ~Why would anyone at the King’s Gathering be chained up like a beast?~